The United States has joined local human rights groups in Cambodia in calling for the release of a labor union leader who was involved in a year-long protest at a casino and arrested last week upon her return from a trip abroad.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the United States was “deeply concerned” by the arrest of Chhim Sithar and urged that charges against her and other detained trade unionists for “exercising their rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly” be dropped. The statement Wednesday also called for the release of U.S. citizen Theary Seng, convicted and jailed in a separate political case.
Chhim Sithar, a union leader at the NagaWorld casino in the capital Phnom Penh, was first arrested in January after leading a demonstration of nearly 400 other dismissed employees who were demanding to be rehired. She had been released on bail in March after strong protests by rights groups and the international community.
She was arrested on Saturday at Phnom Penh International Airport after returning from a working trip to Australia. Authorities said she violated the terms of her bail by traveling abroad without court permission. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday said her action allowed her to be held in pre-trial detention. She faces up to two years in prison if convicted on the original charge of incitement to commit felony by disturbing the social order.
The NagaWorld, as the sole legal casino located in Phnom Penh, is extremely lucrative but in late 2021 dismissed 373 of its employees on the grounds that the company had financially suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic.